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Task force seeks prescription for rising health costs
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Former Sen. David Durenberger chairs the task force. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's task force on addressing rising health care costs held its first meeting Monday. Pawlenty wants the 18 member group to present ideas to him before the Legislature begins its work in February. The governor and others are concerned Minnesotans won't be able to afford continuing double digit increases in health insurance premiums. The difficulties with Pawlenty's challenge were evident during the committee's first meeting and some in the group worry that they might not meet Gov. Pawlenty's January deadline.

St. Paul, Minn. — The task force has been given no small job. Gov. Pawlenty wants them to pick apart the problems plaguing the health care system and come up with ideas on how to contain its rapid growth in costs. Pawlenty said rising health care costs are causing problems for citizens, businesses and state government.

"We need to reform and change the way health care is delivered in our country because it is seriously hampering our ability to fund and deal with other public policy issues," he said

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The task force may have its hands full in meeting that challenge. The first part of the group's first meeting showcased how much Minnesotans spend on health care.

According to the Minnesota Health Department it was $21.5 billion in 2001, $6 billion more than in 1997. Recipients of the money are watching the task force's work carefully. Lobbyists representing hospitals, HMOs, nurses and drug companies made up most of the audience at the meeting. The task force itself is comprised of representatives of various stakeholder groups, including doctors, nurses, business leaders and union members.

Task force member Glen Nelson, a former vice chair of Medtronic, said task force members need to cast aside their personal agendas to reach a common goal.

"If we're expecting to make this attractive to everybody in the system and go out and ask them all what they want, we'll wind up with this stew and I don't think we'll have any solid recommendations that will change the system," he said.

But some members warned it might be difficult to get all of those competing interests to agree on a system in a short period of time.

Others debated whether the task force should recommend major or incremental changes to the system. Joanne Disch said they should move forward with a bold plan to overhaul the system. The University of Minnesota nursing school professor says the public wants them to tackle the problem head on.

"The public when they get health care today are appalled and so frustrated and they want change. And any of you that have been patients or family members know that the public is very unhappy so I don't think we're going to have difficulty building the case that, gee, what we do need to do some radical change," she said.

Some of the proposals discussed during the meeting include requirements that health care professionals base their clinical decisions on the latest science-based research in the field. There were also calls for universal health care and plans that allow consumers to create the model that best fits them.

Task Force Chair Dave Durenberger said he isn't sure what kind of health care model the task force will recommend. The former U.S. senator and health care analyst says his only requirement is that the task force create a system that works for Minnesotans.

"My only concern is that the public feels that they've been involved in this process. That's a big challenge because sometimes if you're in a huge crisis and the smoke is billowing out of the building, everyone's attention is on the fire truck. That isn't the health care system right now because everyone is experiencing pain but a little bit differently," he said.

Durenberger said the task force will hold several hearings throughout the state on the issue. He hopes to present some short term and long-term models at its next meeting on November 10.

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